See our Globe Theatre transformed into a floating Italian garden this summer
Designer Joanna Parker shares her inspiration behind the design for our Summer 2022 production of Much Ado About Nothing
Northern Italy, April 1945. Carnage, devastation, broken lives. Since the 1920s, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy was one of militarism and nationalism, and he left the country crumbling and broken when finally overthrown that spring.
For the partisan families who lived in their hilltop villas, their future was uncertain, and in our Summer 2022 production of Much Ado About Nothing, we’re transported to Leonata’s estate in the region of Veneto, days before Italy was liberated by the Allies following years of civil war, Nazi occupation and Fascist rule. Designer Joanna Parker shares the inspiration behind her vision for Shakespeare’s Italian comedy…
‘I’m building a garden. It’s a floating Italian garden’, says Joanna. There is already a sense of the Italianate in the Globe Theatre’s design, with its bright colours, painted pillars to resemble Italian marble, and the Roman Gods, Apollo and Mercury, depicted either side of the stage.
‘The garden literally grew around dialogues with Lucy [Bailey, Director of Much Ado About Nothing] about the play’. The Globe is both outside and inside as a space, and marries with this natural environment. A garden with its geometry, curves, steps and fountains fits with the architecture of the theatre: ‘everything I’ve designed’, says Joanna, ‘works with the space, and has been modeled with the Globe in mind’.
The Globe is being landscaped as a house and garden. The house has been closed up because of the war, and is painfully opening up again. The garden serves as a refuge from the war, and welcomes the partisans back with open arms after their recent hard-fought victories. It can be a secretive space, where you witness the intricacies of characters confiding in quiet corners, an enchanting environment, where a party spills out into the intoxicating nighttime air, and it can also compel an audience towards the darkness of Hero’s betrayal, and the wild misogyny that runs through the text.
Italy is a Catholic world. in the 1940s, the country still had one foot in the medieval period when it came to women’s rights: for example, they were still required to be virgins when they married, and could be publicly shamed or even killed if their husbands accused them of infedility. In 1930, Mussolini even made it legal for a man to kill his wife, daughter or sister in defiance of his own honour – and this brutal misogyny can be seen in Much Ado About Nothing.
Shakespeare’s play is littered with misogynistic textual references, and for the design, says Joanna, they felt strongly that they ‘wanted to pull out of the play something of the underbelly, of the darkness, of the uncertainty that propels us into any relationship’.
There’s also a lot of fun and wildness built into the play. Talking of one of the reference images that inspired her design, Joanna speaks of the hat maker and designer, Elsa Schiaparelli. ‘She lived during the war period in Italy, and escaped many wealthy Italians to the south of France or to Switzerland. There’s one picture of her dressed as a radish for a party, and all of her friends are dressed up as woodland creatures’. This animalistic imagery is echoed in the play, can be seen in the masks the partisans wear at the lavish masked ball.
Ultimately, Joanna believes, for the design ‘it’s important to create a space and clarity in which the language of the play can ruminate’. There’s a certainty on the surface for the characters in Much Ado About Nothing, but underneath it all there is a pulp of uncertainty, emotions and anxiety.